I was prepared for style over substance, but even the style was lacking here.
Set in 1989 Berlin, days before the Berlin Wall would be torn down, signalling the end of the Cold War, Lorraine is a covert operative sent by the British to obtain a piece of sensitive information that has had other agents killed over. But when she gets there, a deeper web of conspiracy awaits her.
I don’t know what I was expecting from a film called Atomic Blonde, but opinions seemed fairly positive so far and there’s nothing wrong with watching Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road) but boy is it tonally confused and has serious delusions of intelligence.
Stylistically, Atomic Blonde is rocking a sweet 1980s soundtrack, a decent John Wick style approach to establishing combat scenes and weapons (some of the film’s crew did work on John Wick) and the director definitely has a fascination with Theron’s thighs. All good intentions, in my opinion. But unlike the aforementioned Mr Wick, this film is a spy film, an espionage film involving double-crosses, microfilms and sneaking around. For spies and secret agents, they are really bad at their jobs.
Tonally, Atomic Blonde is sleek, yet spray-can graffitied, and opens with a bloodless close-range execution at gun point. Strange, I thought. An R-rated / 15 movie having no gore at all. Only Atomic Blonde‘s final thirty minutes are completely drenched in blood with many head shots. So why no blood early on?
The strangeness is most apparent in the screenplay however. With a framing device of Lorraine being questioned by her superiors about what happened, there’s plenty of moving back and forth. This really makes the events weightless; we know she survives. The script seems needlessly over-complicated, with characters clamming up when explaining events for no reason other than to keep the story moving. Motivations for many characters didn’t exist and not just because they are all spies and lying to each other.
But don’t worry, Charlize Theron has sex with Sofia Boutella, quite graphically. So there’s that.
While Theron’s Lorraine is gorgeous and kicks serious butt in action scenes, I never felt like I got to know her, in fact if studios ever choose to make James Bond a woman, this film is a perfect example of how not to do it.
The film starts out very sluggishly with the framing device and a weird, weirdly written interaction involving the word “cocksucker”… Utterly baffling humour with no comic timing. The action (both involving Boutella and not) is great and Theron brings a lot of physicality to the role with bruises and serious fight choreography, but it is either a case of too-little-too-late or just rehashed from better movies.
Theron definitely should keep making these sorts of leading roles, just… more character, better screenplay and with higher stakes would be ideal!
Additional Marshmallows: This is the definition of a trailer-movie; a movie that is better as a trailer than a full narrative.